Since late 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken the lives of nearly 2.5million individuals. Global healthcare leaders with the passion and expertise to help communities navigate the complex web of problems that COVID-19 has exacerbated are needed. The MGH Global Medicine Residency Program attempts to create leaders dedicated to advancing global health equity and strengthening health systems by combining strong medical training with the foundational belief that health, and healthcare, are human rights.

The Global Medicine Residency Program followed the MGH Department of Medicine’s longstanding commitment to global health and launched in its current form in 2011. Under the direction of Geren Stone, MD, the program has equipped 12 physicians with the skills they need to become leaders in global health. Graduates of the program have gone on to several careers, including being awarded NIH research career development awards, positions with the CDC Epidemiologic Intelligence Service, and serving as a primary care physician among underserved populations domestically.

The Global Medicine Program has evolved since it launched a decade ago, but for current trainees it includes a three-year residency with the option to apply to a yearlong fellowship. The program uses this time to offer courses, mentorship, research support, global health training opportunities, and access to an expansive global network of researchers, physicians, and other clinicians in the US and through MGH’s global partnerships.

Ingabire Grace Balinda, MD, MGH Global Medicine Fellow, Pooja Yerramilli, MD, MGH Global Medicine Resident and Brady Page, MD, MPHTM MGH Global Medicine Resident are three of the program’s current trainees. Though each entered the residency with very different goals, they echoed a common reason for joining: the program’s willingness to offer individualized career planning.

Dr. Balinda always held a very specific goal: she wanted to be a doctor in Rwanda. Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and raised in Rwanda, she attended college in the United States to study medicine, before choosing MGH for her residency.

“The Global Residency Program allowed me to be able to meaningfully contribute to the improvement of the health care system in Rwanda,” she said about her decision to join.

Though the program did not originally have longstanding relationships in Rwanda, Dr. Stone helped leverage the program’s network and resources to connect her with organizations working in Rwanda, such as Partners In Health. Once there, she took the time “to forge lasting relationships with people” while learning and contributing to local clinical care.

Dr. Yerramilli is a second-year resident in the program. The interest in global health that carried her to the Global Medicine Residency Program began early in her childhood.

“From a young age I was interested in poverty alleviation and international development,” she said. “My parents are from India and we used to go there a lot and I used to engage in some community service projects. I was always bothered by inequities both locally and globally.”

This awareness inspired her first real passion: global health policy. Dr. Yerramilli followed this passion to an undergraduate degree in global health. But after working in policy, she found herself seeking a more tangible impact in health.

“I really felt that I needed to see the individual impact, hear the individual stories, and learn about the practice of medicine in order to really understand what patients and physicians are facing,” she said.

The global medicine residency program offered Dr. Yerramilli an “abundance of support and mentorship.” Through the program, she developed a relationship with Seed Global Health and has worked to combine her policy experience and clinical medicine skills to focus on health system strengthening.

Dr. Page, grew up in Northern California and spent time in Brazil, Australia, and Indonesia before medical school. Throughout his travel, he not only developed an interest in different cultures, but in the impact of infectious diseases.

“Infections are very much tied into other fields like the environment, the weather, cutting down trees and releasing different bugs but also what’s going on socially, economically, and the history of a region,” he said. “You get interested in all these different aspects of a place and learn a lot about them.”

He carried this interest through medical school. When it came time for residency, he knew he didn’t want his professional career to stop in the United States.

“Part of the allure of this program is that I didn’t really have a clear vision of exactly where I wanted to be,” Dr. Page said about his decision to join the program. “I knew things I wanted to get more exposure to, and I knew things I wanted to get more experience in, but because I didn’t have a clear vision, I felt this program would let me explore a little bit and give me the best shot to say, ‘Okay this is where I want to be.’”

As a resident, he utilized the program’s international blocks to travel to a range of communities, including Papua New Guinea and Uganda, and offer support in local clinics.

Since 2011, the Global Medicine Residency and Fellowship Program has nurtured physicians from a myriad of backgrounds and perspectives like those of Dr. Balinda, Dr. Yerramilli, and Dr. Page. The program hopes to help them achieve their goals and become leaders within the global health equity community.

Beginning in 2021, the global medicine program offerings will be open to all internal medicine residents through the MGH Department of Medicine. This shift will integrate equity-centered global health practice into the core residency training and hopes to increase MGH’s engagement in the global medical community.

“COVID-19 has shown us how interconnected we all are,” Dr. Balinda said. “And global health should focus more on lifting up the countries that have been left behind. The medical community needs to be more involved.”

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